I thought I’d post this spoof presentation for the fun of it on the responsible development of “unobtainium”, which seems to have some remarkable similarities with some other emerging technologies: If you’re a little mystified, blame David Berube – who encouraged the initial idea, and embellished it in his own presentation at a recent conference on another – but entirely unrelated – technology: nanotechnology. While this is all rather facetious, there are some important points buried in the presentation, that touch on issues surrounding speculative hype, exponential extrapolation, and analysis unencumbered by evidence. As a final word, David thought it a great lark writing about a mythical material called unobtanium, but was tickled pink to discover that there are some people who take this seriously. Here’s some stuff he dug up: First there’s the Wikipedia page dedicated to the material. Then, a Google Scholar search currently returns around 145 hits for the search term “unobtainium”. In 1990, Misra and Mohan wrote a piece titled “Towards unobtainium [new composite materials for space applications]” in Aerospace Composites and Materials. (Vol. 2, pp. 29-32. Nov.-Dec. 1990). And in 2010 Wired Magazine ran an on-line story on a congressional hearing on unobtanium. Sadly, the hearing was only on rare earth elements – no mention of unobtanium on Capitol Hill – but the unobtanium story got some traction. Which just goes to show that no matter how hard we try to be make up weird stuff, the things people take seriously are almost always weirder!
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